Haze grounded flights in Langkawi; almost 3,000 people stranded

Kuah Jetty in Langkawi almost completely covered by haze.
Kuah Jetty in Langkawi almost completely covered by haze. PHOTO: THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

LANGKAWI (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Close to 3,000 people, mostly tourists, were stranded here as the haze grounded almost all flights to and from Langkawi International Airport for the past two days.

On Thursday morning (Oct 22), passengers of certain airlines were told the next available flights would be late Friday afternoon, and even then, there was no guarantee that they wouldn't be cancelled.

"We cannot give any estimates because we can't predict the haze.

"We can only wait until visibility levels are safe, inform the airlines, and let them decide whether it's safe to fly," said airport manager Jefry Ramli.

Sandra Chu and Jimmy Cheung, both 49, from Hong Kong, spent two days waiting for replacement flights at the airport, and their rescheduled flight to Kuala Lumpur on Thursday was also cancelled.

They spent over HK$10,000 (S$1,799) on their trip to Pulau Langkawi, and have now been forced to forego most of the hotel stay and tour packages they've paid for in Kuala Lumpur.

"It's a total loss," said Cheung of the Kuala Lumpur leg of his holiday. "I never experienced anything like this. I don't think I'll ever come back here."

Frenchman Aoune Sane, 33, and his friends had to cancel their flights to Kuala Lumpur and Phuket, worth a total of €300 (S$465), due to the delay.

They finally decided to travel to Phuket by sea - a five-hour journey - in order to catch their flight back to Paris from Thailand.

Others desperate to get to the mainland had to take the ferry from Kuah Jetty to Kuala Perlis or Penang, and book land transport from there.

Airport and airline staff were doing their best to cope with the chaos caused by the haze.

"Only a few have shouted at us, but that's to be expected," said AirAsia guest service assistant Mohd Azhar Saidan, who was in good spirits despite working 12-hour shifts for the past three days.

Jefry said the airport was also doing its best to help passengers.